Commentary: Divinity and Diversity
Written by the Rev. Tim Ahrens
Every year before taking vows to become followers of Christ, I take my church’s young people to a mosque in Central Ohio. By simply crossing the threshold, we are breaking down misunderstanding. Last year, one of the young people asked, “Why do people hate Muslims? Everyone here welcomes us with a smile and God’s love.” I answered, “Then tell those who hate what your experience has been. Do not be afraid to share good news about your welcome here.” Since then, these young people – the next generation’s leaders, perhaps – have developed growing friendships in the Muslim community.
Like many in the Christian community, I am deeply disturbed by the violence of extremists who destroy life in the name of Allah. The depth of my horror is further deepened by extremist groups’ claims to be committing these acts in the name of a peaceful religious community. And if this hurts and angers me, these feelings within the Islamic community must be immeasurable.
I am deeply concerned about the mischaracterization of Muslims across the globe, particularly with threats and hatred directed toward my neighbors and friends who practice Islam.
In my 26 years as a faith leader in Columbus, I have seen men, women and children of all nations worshiping one God together. I have experienced all-inclusive welcomes into a host of houses of worship. I have been invited to pray, to speak, to share meals and thus, to build bridges of understanding, across differences of faith and worship. I have been called “brother” and “friend,” and have experienced such brotherhood and friendship with love and grace. Therefore, I cannot remain silent when my brothers and sisters are threatened and persecuted for being Muslim.
When frustration and anger lead people to purposefully mischaracterize Islam, we, as a nation, are led down a dangerous path of religious intolerance. Recent increases in hate crimes and hate speech targeting American Muslim individuals and institutions are proof.
We as a nation stand for pluralism and religious freedom. Since our founding, we have prided ourselves as a home for all to practice their faith without fear of prejudice or discrimination. Every religion deserves equal First Amendment protection. Every person in our land deserves the right to worship God as he or she understands God. As a Christian, my Savior teaches me to uphold the values of love and respect for one another. Such interfaith participation honors my own faith as well as that of others.
So, let us all stand against bearing false witness. Muslims are an important part of the American tapestry, contributing to our society through work and service. Muslims have been in America before we were even formed as a nation and have fought for our freedoms. It is inaccurate and wrong to stereotype and malign these individuals. If we fail to recognize the common humanity we share, we do a disservice not only to the Muslim community, but to ourselves.
The Rev. Tim Ahrens is the Senior Minister of First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, downtown Columbus, Ohio. He will be speaking at the Shoulder to Shoulder’s Divinity & Diversity conference at Noor Islamic Cultural Center this weekend in Columbus.
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